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Essay/Term paper: The cherry orchard: reality, illusion, and foolish pride

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The Cherry Orchard: Reality, Illusion, and Foolish Pride


Chandler Friedman
English 231
Dr. Clark Lemons


In the plays The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, A Doll's House by
Henrik Ibsen, and Galileo by Bertolt Brecht, the protagonists' mental beliefs
combine reality and illusion that both shape the plot of each respective story.
The ability of the characters to reject or accept an illusion, along with the
foolish pride that motivated their decision, leads to their personal downfall.

In The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov, Gayev and Miss Ranevsky, along
with the majority of their family, refuse to believe that their estate is close
to bankruptcy. Instead of accepting the reality of their problem, they continue
to live their lives under the illusion that they are doing well financially.
The family continues with its frivolous ways until there is no money left (the
final night they have in the house before it is auctioned, they throw an
extravagant party, laughing in the face of impending financial ruin) Even when
Lopakhin attempts to rescue the family with ideas that could lead to some of the
estate being retained, they dismiss his ideas under the illusion that the
situation is not so desperate that they need to compromise any of their dignity.


Lopakhin: As you know, your cherry orchard's being sold to pay your
debts. The auction is on the twenty second of August. But
there's no need to worry, my dear. You can sleep soundly.
There's a way out. Here's my plan. Listen carefully, please.
Your estate is only about twelve miles from town, and the
railway is not very far away. Now all you have to do is break
up your cherry orchard and the land along the river into
building
plots and lease them out for country cottages. You'll then have
an income of at least twenty-five thousand a year.
Gayev: I'm sorry, but what utter nonsense!
(Later in the Dialogue)
Mrs. Ranevsky: Cut down? My dear man, I'm very sorry but I don't
think you know what you're talking about....
Lopakhin: If we can't think of anything and if we can't come to any
decision, it won't only be your cherry orchard, but your
whole estate that will be sold at auction on the twenty-
second of August. Make up your mind. I tell you there is
no other way. (Page 621-622)

This inability on the behalf of the family to realize the seriousness of
their situation is due to their refusal to accept reality. If they had
recognized the situation they were in, and dealt with it, (they may have been
able to save some of their money, or even curbed their spending) they could have
saved themselves. Unfortunately, once things got bad for them financially, they
refused to accept that fact that circumstances had changed, and instead
continued to live as though nothing were wrong.

They adopted this illusion as a savior of their pride, and the illusion
eventually became reality for the family. Their pride wouldn't allow for
anything else. They were too proud to accept that their social status, and
financial status was in jeopardy, so they chose to live a life of illusion. In
their imaginary situation, they were going to be fine. It is easier to believe
something when you really want it to be true. Unfortunately, outside situations
don't change, even if you can fool yourself into thinking they don't exist.

The illusion that they used to run their lives became the source of
their downfall. Since they grasped at their illusion so tightly, in vain hopes
that it would replace reality, they failed to deal practically with their
problem, until it got to the point where they had to. They were kicked out onto
the street, and had all of their material things taken from them. The most
important thing they had -- their status -- was gone.

In A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen, property and status are again
destined to be lost. The illusion is twisted. At the beginning of the play,
Nora leads a life under the illusion that everything was perfect. She lives for
eight years with the knowledge that she has broken the law, and betrayed her
husband. Though it was necessary, the psychological toll it took on her and the
family was hardly worthwhile.

Along with Nora's flaws, her husband was also at fault. He couldn't
accept what Nora had done, and wouldn't have been able to deal with the extreme
changes which she had undergone. His pride wouldn't let him accept that he
needed a woman to help him; that he couldn't handle everything alone without the
help of another person (This Œstoic male' ideal has lead to the downfall of many
men). His self-confidence would not have been strong enough to take that kind
of blow to his ego.

If she had forced her husband into handling the situation, by having him
borrow money himself, everything would have turned out fine. She, instead, took
out the loan on her own, and didn't even clue in her husband. She tried to
avoid having his pride injured by forcing him to borrow money, even though it
was necessary to save his life.

From this experience she grew. She learned about human nature, and
about the value of money, and had even learned a lesson of practicality.
Instead of clueing in her husband about what she had done, (the final step in
the maturation process she had undergone -- being able to accept blame) she kept
quiet and left him ignorant. She lived her life in an illusion, pretending to
be the old Nora that she was, and not the new and changed woman she had
developed into. She didn't let the person she had become permeate all the
aspects of her life. She let the illusion of the old Nora continue well after
she had become a new person. Eventually she evolved into a person who couldn't
stand to be married to Helmer anymore.

Helmer: Nora, I would gladly work for you night and day, and endure
sorrow and hardship for your sake. But no man can be
expected to sacrifice his honor, even for the person he
loves.
Nora: Millions of women have done it.
Helmer: Oh, you think and talk like a stupid child.
Nora: That may be. But you neither think nor talk like the man I
could share my life with...as I am now, I am no wife for you.
(Page 587)

If she had continued to grow, and mature, and had accepted the kind of
person she became, then perhaps she would have gained the courage to tell her
husband what she had done. She would not have had to leave. She could have
educated him gradually instead of immediately surrendering any hope by leaving
everything she has ever known. Nora's failure to accept what she had really
become led to the end of her life with Helmer, and her downfall in society. It
was also Helmer's downfall socially and emotionally.

Galileo, by Berolt Brecht, is rather different from both of the
previously mentioned situations in that the protagonist puts forth a façade of
living with an illusion (that he had truly recanted, and truly believed his
theories to be false), when in reality he didn't believe it. His denial of this
illusion led to his collapse.

Granted, on the exterior, his collapse seems relatively minimal (he ends
up with a popular status among the people of his city, and throughout Europe),
but he is disgusted with himself. The feeling that other people have towards
him does not lead him to believe that he did the right thing. Instead, if he
had been steadfast to what he thought, instead of buckling to the illusions that
everyone had of him (that he was a person who immediately realized he was wrong,
and valued the church more than his theories) he would have been much happier,
although he'd be dead too. He leads the rest of his life echoing the idea in
his head that he was weak and useless.

Galileo: ...At that particular time, had one man put up a fight, it
could have had wide repercussions. I have come to believe that I was never in
real danger; for some years I was as strong as the authorities, and I
surrendered my knowledge to the powers that be, to use it, no, not to use it, to
abuse it, as it suits their ends. I have betrayed my profession. Any man who
does what I have done must not be tolerated in the ranks of science. (p.809).

Some people look at Galileo as a coward for what he did, since he did
not stand up for what he believed, even though his life was on the line. I
disagree. He is more of a hero for what he did than if he had let himself
become a martyr. He let the church believe what they wanted to about him, but
internally, he remained the same. He instead lived the rest of his life
supporting a fallacy. He had to pretend that a fundamental part of his belief
system did not exist. Galileo, being a proud and stubborn man found this to be
the most difficult task of his life.

His pride refused to let him accept the illusion (that his theory was
completely wrong) over reality. If he had, he would have been a happier person,
and the conflict that he lived with every day would be resolved.

He ends up in a better state superficially, but internally, his refusal
to accept an illusion has led to his intense dislike for himself and his moral
base. If he could have somehow reconciled his beliefs with the life he actually
led, he wouldn't have ended up as bitter or sad a person as he did.

Throughout each of these plays, the main character (or characters) faced
a reality that they cease to accept, and instead live in an illusion (except in
the case of Galileo, in which case the reverse is true). The refusal to accept
a reality or illusion led to the characters' fall in status and/or emotional
well being.

 

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